Haftar's forces say key coastal city captured

Haftar's forces say key coastal city captured

BENGHAZI-The Associated Press
Haftars forces say key coastal city captured

Libya's east-based forces said they captured the strategic coastal city of Sirte on Jan. 6 from the U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.

The announcement comes amid a major offensive by the east-based forces to take Tripoli. The capital city is the seat of a rival Libyan government, which is supported by the United Nations.

Libya is currently governed by dueling authorities in the east and in Tripoli in the west, each relying on different militias.

Commander Khalifa Haftar declared a "final'' and decisive battle to take Tripoli last month. Fighting and shelling between the two sides has been raging there since April, with neither side making much progress.

Ahmed al-Mosmari, a spokesman for Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army, announced Sirte had been taken at a press conference in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Capturing Sirte would be a major win for Haftar's forces, should they maintain control of the city, which is about 230 miles (370 kilometers) east of Tripoli.

Some Sirte residents confirmed that the city was now under the control of LNA fighters. Ahmed Awas, 42, a petroleum engineer who lives in central Sirte, said the sounds of gunfire could be heard in his neighborhood Monday afternoon. He said advancing battalions included fighters from the area.

The latest push for Sirte was over in a matter of hours, according to al-Mosmari. He said that the city was taken on Jan. 6 in a "lightning" offensive.

Sirte was the hometown of former president Moammar Al-Gadhafi. He was killed in 2011 after an international military coalition helped Libyan rebels oust him from power.

After that, Sirte was controlled for a time by Islamist militants who pledged allegiance to the ISIL group, until being defeated in 2016.

Libya's east-based government is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as France and Russia.

Russia sends fighters to up Haftar's forces in Libya

Meanwhile, Russia has sent mercenaries from Syria to Libya to fight for renegade general Khalifa Haftar, a London-based daily reported on Jan. 7.

Citing unnamed sources, the Arabic al-Jadeed reported, the move came with the support of United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

Two Russian military planes landed at the Benghazi airport in the past three days with fighters from Russian security companies Moran and Schit, it added.

Also, some Syrian nationals working for the Russian forces were sent to Libya, the report went on to say.

The GNA receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

The fighting threatens to plunge oil-rich Libya into another bout of violence similar in scale to the 2011 conflict.